Sunday, November 23, 2014

Scotland: Farming with Dyslexia

The inaugural meeting of the Farming with Dyslexia Working Group, led by NFU Scotland, took place earlier this week.

Chaired by the Union’s Vice President Rob Livesey, the group was established to ensure that Scottish farming stakeholders recognise the needs of dyslexic crofters and farmers in the most appropriate way.

Representatives from NFU Scotland, the Scottish Government’s Rural Payments Inspection Directorate, Forestry Commission Scotland, Dyslexia Scotland and Scotland’s Rural College (SRUC) along with four farming and crofting members of NFU Scotland who have dyslexia attended the meeting on Wednesday (3 September).

Steered by NFU Scotland, this group was borne from the recognition that dyslexia is a real, but often hidden, issue among the farming community.

With some 25 per cent of agriculture students at SRUC receiving support for dyslexia, it is believed this heritable condition is more prevalent within the farming sector than previously thought.

However, due to stigma and poor understanding, it can remain undiagnosed and can be problematic for those dealing with communications, regulation and form-filling within the agriculture industry.

The Union recently launched a campaign to raise awareness of dyslexia amongst the farming community, whilst engaging with the Scottish Government, Dyslexia Scotland and SRUC to see how joint work can be undertaken to better recognise the issue and support those affected.

NFU Scotland Vice President Rob Livesey commented:

“Today’s meeting was a constructive one and a sound starting point for those keen to recognise the impact of dyslexia within our industry and what action we can take to help their situation.

“I believe we have a great bunch of people with vision and determination to make a difference.  The contribution from those within the working group will be crucial to the success of this initiative.

“It’s now clear to myself and others that there is no one size fits all approach to helping those with dyslexia working within Scottish farming. However, there is a commitment to proactively help those that have or suspect they have dyslexia.

“As a group, our first objective is to continue to raise awareness and build on the work that we have started. The next task we have is to attempt to remove the stigma attached to dyslexia. We strongly believe as a group that there is huge potential to tap into the talent that dyslexic people in our industry have and help them recognise their own potential for the benefit of all.

“That ambition can be underpinned by engaging with all stakeholders to ensure the needs of those with dyslexia are taken into account and that all communications and regulations are available in a format appropriate for those with dyslexia.

“As a result we will be embarking on a campaign in the next few months to address those stated aims.”

Note to Editors

  • The three key objectives agreed at the first meeting of the Farmers with Dyslexia Working group were:
  • Raise awareness of dyslexia to reduce the stigma and promote the abilities of dyslexic individuals which are of great benefit to the agriculture industry
  • Engage with the Scottish Government and other stakeholders to ensure measures to recognise dyslexia among the farming community are appropriate.
  • Ensure systems of communication with regulatory bodies are more accessible for dyslexic farmers and crofters with a choice of delivery options
  • A photograph of the working group is available on request, by contacting Bob Carruth: media@nfus.org.uk or by calling 0131 472 4006.
  • NFU Scotland launched a campaign to get better support in place for farmers and crofters who have dyslexia in July to ensure there is suitable support in place to make the day-to-day running of their businesses easier and more efficient when it comes to form filling and communicating with farming organisations.
  • The campaign has received the backing from former racing driver Sir Jackie Stewart and the Union has been working with Scottish Government, Dyslexia Scotland and SRUC throughout the campaign. For more information visit: http://tiny.cc/hisllx

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Embracing Dyslexia - Video



Dyslexia is a specific learning disability that is neurological in origin. Individuals with dyslexia have trouble with reading, writing, and spelling despite having at least an average intelligence.

It is estimated that 15 to 20 percent of the population is dyslexic but most are never identified or diagnosed and left to struggle their entire life.

We know how to fix the reading, writing, and spelling issues that dyslexics struggle with. But there is a tremendous roadblock in the way and it is there because our governments, schools and educators are simply misinformed about what dyslexia is or they have no information at all.

By carefully weaving together interviews with parents, experts, and adult dyslexics, "Embracing Dyslexia" tackles the issues surrounding dyslexia like no other documentary film has before.

Parents share emotional stories of their anxiety and frustration over failing to understand why their children were struggling with reading, writing, and spelling and the life-altering impact the word dyslexia had on their lives.

Adult dyslexics courageously open up and speak candidly about their dyslexia, sharing their struggles and successes they have had in school and in their adult lives.

Experts define what dyslexia is, illustrate why early dyslexia screening for all children is vital, and share how effective tutoring, classroom accommodations, and fostering the natural strengths dyslexic's possess can take them from experiencing failure on a daily basis to believing in themselves and knowing that they can be successful.

Credit: www.embracingdyslexia.com

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Fragile-X Syndrome (FXS): Spaced training improves long term memory

Prominent characteristics of the syndrome include an elongated face, large or protruding ears, and low muscle tone. 

Credit: Wikipedia

Research on mice with Fragile X syndrome (FXS) suggests that multiple, spaced training sessions can enhance learning and long term memory when longer, continuous sessions do not.

Christine Gall and colleagues at the University of California Irvine tested mice with FXS on their ability to remember objects and locations and found that multiple training sessions, with 60-minutes breaks, allowed them to perform as well as healthy mice.

The research appears in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

FXS is the most common cause of inherited intellectual disability. Previous studies have shown that mice with this condition have a problem with synaptic signaling in the hippocampus, which affects their ability to create long term memories.

Christine Gall
Gall's team wanted to see if they could create a training regime that would help overcome synaptic signaling problems and enable mice with FXS to learn normally.

They knew that individuals tend to learn better when trained in short, spaced trials rather than a single, long training episode, so they tested whether spaced training would help FXS mice.

The researchers tested the mice on object location memory (OLM) and novel object recognition (NOR).

To test OLM, they placed a mouse in a chamber that also contained two identical objects.

They gave the mouse time to examine the objects and remember their locations, and then removed the mouse. When the mouse was gone, the researchers moved one of the objects.

They then returned the mouse to the chamber. If the mouse spent more time exploring the new location than the old location, it was a sign that it had remembered the original location.

NOM testing involved replacing one of the identical objects with a different object, without changing its location.

Mice that spent more time examining the new object showed that they had remembered the original object.

After undergoing five minutes of continuous training and being removed from the chamber for 24 hours, wild mice recognized that one of the objects had moved or been replaced, but FXS mice did not.

However, when the researchers divided the training into three 100-second trials, with 60-minute intervals between them, the FXS mice performed about as well as the wild mice.

Gall's team examined hippocampal tissue from the mice and found that control FXS mice had problems with the activation of ERK1/2, a kinase needed for memory encoding.

Spaced training corrected this problem and restored proper signaling between synapses.

More information: Spaced training rescues memory and ERK1/2 signaling in fragile X syndrome model mice, PNAS, Ronald R. Seese, DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1413335111

Monday, November 3, 2014

Children with dyslexia might also be having difficulties with social skills

A reluctance to do any reading may be a classic sign of dyslexia, but there may be other tell-tale signs that can raise a parent's concern according to Joanna Dunton of Bangor University's Miles Dyslexia Centre.

Speaking ahead of Dyslexia Awareness Week, (3- 9 November) Language Therapist Jo Dunton explained that children with dyslexia might be having difficulties with reading, spelling and writing, but also with social skills, and with other seemingly unrelated areas.

"It could be that a dyslexic child may be particularly prone to forgetting things or being rather disorganised," explained Jo Dunton.

"Because of the challenges facing them, children with dyslexia may appear withdrawn or lose interest in school work, or might want to avoid going to school and, research has shown, could often be bullied or socially isolated due to their difficulties."

"These differences can lead to low self-esteem, especially if the child doesn't understand why they're having to struggle to do things that other children seem to be able to achieve with ease."

"Recognising the problem can be extremely helpful, as can setting things in place to help the dyslexic child overcome the particular difficulties facing them."

However dyslexia is not all negative, many people with dyslexia have great spatial or 3D awareness, and many go on to be engineers.

Places such as the spy HQ GCHQ have dyslexics ranking among their staff as does space agency NASA, so the sky's the limit!

If you think your child may be facing difficulties with reading, writing or any educationally related problem, then the first port of call should be the school" she told reporters.

"However, here at the Miles Dyslexia Centre we're always willing to speak with parents and advise them and can provide consultation sessions for parents and children."

Jo's Top Tips for Parents:

  • Talk to your child - discuss their day or their feelings. Vocabulary has been shown to have a major impact on developing literacy skills.
  • Look at the whole person rather than focus on your child's difficulties. Encourage then to get involved with things that they are good at as this will help build self-esteem.
  • Don't let homework become a battle ground. Little and often is more effective, reading one page or practising one word is better than nothing at all.
  • Spelling practice can be done with a whiteboard or with plastic letters. Try to find a way to make it fun.
  • Reading does not always have to be from a book. Perhaps use sets of word cards to make sentences, play matching or pairs games. Don't let your child view it as a chore that has to be done.
  • Out shopping- ask your child to read out the shopping list or the signs around the store. We are surrounded by words, use them as resources.
  • Talk to the school about any concerns you may have. Working together with the school can lead to a more coordinated response to any difficulties.
  • Self-organisation can be a key difficulty leading to forgotten books, kit, pens etc. Encourage your child to develop a routine. Is it swimming tomorrow? – Get the kit ready tonight!
  • Encourage the use of memory joggers such as checklists, 'to do' lists or school planners. Perhaps a large chalkboard or whiteboard could be used as a family planner.
  • Remember reading and spelling are skills, and, like any skill, they need lots of regular practice. Footballers, swimmers and tennis stars also have to work hard to improve their skills!

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Dyslexia: The Discover Dyslexia chart

SHARE the Discover Dyslexia chart from WebMD

Friday, October 31, 2014

FUNterval: Fun and games make for better learners

Four minutes of physical activity can improve behaviour in the classroom for primary school students, according to new research by Brendon Gurd.

A brief, high-intensity interval exercise, or a "FUNterval," for Grade 2 and Grade 4 students reduced off-task behaviours like fidgeting or inattentiveness in the classroom.

"While 20 minutes of daily physical activity (DPA) is required in Ontario primary schools, there is a need for innovative and accessible ways for teachers to meet this requirement," says Dr. Gurd, lead researcher and professor in the School of Kinesiology and Health Studies.

"Given the time crunch associated with the current school curriculum we thought that very brief physical activity breaks might be an interesting way to approach DPA. We were particularly interested in what effects a brief exercise bout might have in the classroom setting."

For the study, students were taught a class and were then given an active break, where they would perform a FUNterval, or a non-active break where they would learn about different aspects of healthy living on alternating days for three weeks.

After each break, classroom observers recorded instances of off-task behaviour. When a four minute FUNterval was completed during a break from class, there was less off-task behaviour observed in the 50 minutes following the break than if students completed a non-active break.

Working with Dr. Gurd, master's student Jasmine Ma created the series of four-minute activities that students could complete in small spaces with no equipment.

FUNtervals involved actively acting out tasks like "making s'mores" where students would lunge to "collect firewood," "start the fire" by crouching and exploding into a star jump and squatting and jumping to "roast the marshmallows" to make the S'more.

Each activity moves through a 20-second storyline of quick, enthusiastic movements followed by 10 seconds of rest for eight intervals.

This research was published in Applied Physiology, Nutrition and Metabolism.

Autism: Conventional UK police interview techniques are not effective

Police find interviewing and interacting with witnesses and suspects with autism a real challenge, a new study from researchers in the Department of Psychology at UK's University of Bath, has revealed, highlighting that the ways UK police officers have been taught to interview could be at odds with what is needed in these situations.

As part of the study, the researchers found that existing interview techniques tend to focus on open questions, only later narrowing down to closed questions, whereas research shows that people with autism may need focused questions from the outset.

The Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC)-funded research studied what does, and does not, work when police interview people with autism.

Katie Maras
The researchers, including Dr Katie Maras from Department of Psychology, University of Bath and her colleague, Dr Laura Crane, at City University London, are calling for better training for UK police and criminal justice professionals as, at present in the UK, these groups currently have no standard compulsory training about autism.

Dr Maras said: "As part of this study we have heard of many cases where problems have arisen because police and other criminal justice professionals know very little about autism.

"Research in this area is still in its infancy, but it's steadily accumulating. There's a crucial need to get findings to practitioners to help them obtain the best evidence possible from people with autism."

Laura Crane
More than 400 UK frontline and investigative police officers holding a variety of ranks provided information for the study.

They spoke of the difficulties and challenges they encounter when obtaining written, oral and identification evidence.

Officers reported, for example, finding it hard to build rapport with people with autism, which usually plays an important part in interviews.

They also described difficulties in arranging a suitable environment for interviews.

"Police stations tend to be noisy with bright or flickering lighting and strange smells, but people with autism are often sensitive to sensory input and as a result they can struggle to maintain concentration in interviews", Dr Maras added.

Over 600,000 people in the UK have autism, many of whom will come into contact with the police at some point in their lives.

Poor social-communication skills can make them vulnerable when involved with the UK Criminal Justice System as a victim, witness or suspect.

Individuals with autism process memories in a different way from other people, which can lead to misunderstandings.

During the study, officers answered questions about existing interview practices that they considered worked well, and were asked what could be done to develop understanding and skills.

The researchers found examples of excellent practice, especially among police officers who were able to draw on their personal experience of the disorder through familiarity with a family member or colleague with autism.

On a further positive note, related research shows that there are simple and effective strategies that can enhance the evidence that people with autism give and improve their credibility as witnesses.

For example, providing information about a witness' diagnosis can improve his or her perceived credibility; unusual and stereotyped behaviours can be attributed to autism, rather than a lack of credibility.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Learning to read involves tricking the brain

In the experimental sequence, a pair of identical animals (e.g. horses) is preceded on the screen by a pair of mirror-image letters (b and d), or, in the control condition, a pair of non-mirror-image letters (f and t). 

The participant must decide in each case whether the two items (letters or animals) are identical or not. 

Credit: CNRS /Université Paris Descartes, Sorbonne-Paris-Cité /Université de Caen Basse-Normandie

While reading, children and adults alike must avoid confusing mirror-image letters (like b/d or p/q). Why is it difficult to differentiate these letters?

When learning to read, our brain must be able to inhibit the mirror-generalization process, a mechanism that facilitates the recognition of identical objects regardless of their orientation, but also prevents the brain from differentiating letters that are different but symmetrical.

A study conducted by the researchers of the Laboratoire de Psychologie du Développement et de l'Education de l'Enfant (CNRS / Université Paris Descartes / Université de Caen Basse-Normandie) is available on the website of the Psychonomic Bulletin & Review (Online First Articles).

In recent years, many studies on the process of learning to read have been based on the neuronal recycling hypothesis: the reuse of old brain mechanisms in a new adaptive role - a kind of "biological trick."

Specifically, neurons that are originally dedicated to the rapid identification of objects in the environment, through the mirror-generalization process, are "repurposed" during childhood to specialize in the visual recognition of letters and words.

In this study, the researchers showed 80 young adults pairs of images, first two letters and then two animals, asking them to determine whether they were identical.

The readers consistently spent more time determining that two animal images, when preceded by mirror-image letters, were indeed identical.

This increase in response time is called "negative priming": the readers had to inhibit the mirror-generalization process in order to distinguish letters like b/d or p/q. They then needed a little more time to reactivate this strategy when it became useful again to quickly identify animals.

Learning to read involves tricking the brain

The reader must learn to distinguish mirror-image letters (b and d) on the computer screen separated by a target fixation cross (+). 

Credit: CNRS/Université Paris Descartes, Sorbonne-Paris-Cité /Université de Caen Basse-Normandie

These results show that even adults need to inhibit the mirror-generalization process to avoid reading errors.

Children must therefore learn to inhibit this strategy when learning to read. A failure of cognitive inhibition during the recycling of visual neurons in the brain could thus be a factor in dyslexia, a direction worth exploring, in light of these findings.

More information: "The cost of blocking the mirror-generalization process in reading: Evidence for the role of inhibitory control in discriminating letters with lateral mirror-image counterparts." Grégoire Borst, Emmanuel Ahr, Margot Roell, and Olivier Houdé. Psychonomic Bulletin & Review (Online First Articles), 23 May 2014. DOI: 10.3758/s13423-014-0663-9

Learning to talk is in the genes

Researchers have found evidence that genetic factors may contribute to the development of language during infancy.

Scientists from the Medical Research Council (MRC) Integrative Epidemiology Unit at the University of Bristol worked with colleagues around the world to discover a significant link between genetic changes near the ROBO2 gene and the number of words spoken by children in the early stages of language development.

Children produce words at about 10 to 15 months of age and our range of vocabulary expands as we grow - from around 50 words at 15 to 18 months, 200 words at 18 to 30 months, 14,000 words at six-years-old and then over 50,000 words by the time we leave secondary school.

The researchers found the genetic link during the ages of 15 to 18 months when toddlers typically communicate with single words only before their linguistic skills advance to two-word combinations and more complex grammatical structures.

The results, published in Nature Communications today [16 Sept], shed further light on a specific genetic region on chromosome 3, which has been previously implicated in dyslexia and speech-related disorders.

The ROBO2 gene contains the instructions for making the ROBO2 protein. This protein directs chemicals in brain cells and other neuronal cell formations that may help infants to develop language but also to produce sounds.

The ROBO2 protein also closely interacts with other ROBO proteins that have previously been linked to problems with reading and the storage of speech sounds.

Dr Beate St Pourcain, who jointly led the research with Professor Davey Smith at the MRC Integrative Epidemiology Unit, said: "This research helps us to better understand the genetic factors which may be involved in the early language development in healthy children, particularly at a time when children speak with single words only, and strengthens the link between ROBO proteins and a variety of linguistic skills in humans."

Dr Claire Haworth, one of the lead authors, based at the University of Warwick, commented: "In this study we found that results using DNA confirm those we get from twin studies about the importance of genetic influences for language development."

"This is good news as it means that current DNA-based investigations can be used to detect most of the genetic factors that contribute to these early language skills."

The study was carried out by an international team of scientists from the EArly Genetics and Lifecourse Epidemiology Consortium (EAGLE) and involved data from over 10,000 children.

More information: 'Common Variation Near ROBO2 is Associated with Expressive Vocabulary in Infancy' by St Pourcain et al in Nature Communications.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Rett syndrome: Autism Spectrum Disorder Mice improve with synthetic oil

When young mice with the rodent equivalent of a rare autism spectrum disorder (ASD), called Rett syndrome, were fed a diet supplemented with the synthetic oil triheptanoin, they lived longer than mice on regular diets.

Importantly, their physical and behavioral symptoms were also less severe after being on the diet, according to results of new research from The Johns Hopkins University.

Researchers involved in the study think that triheptanoin improved the functioning of mitochondria, energy factories common to all cells.

Since mitochondrial defects are seen in other ASDs, the researchers say, the experimental results offer hope that the oil could help not just people with Rett syndrome, but also patients with other, more common ASDs.

A description of the research will be published on Oct. 9 in the journal PLOS ONE.

ASDs affect an estimated one in 68 children under 8 years of age in the United States. Rett syndrome is a rare ASD caused by mutations in the MECP2 gene, which codes for methyl-CpG-binding-protein 2 (MeCP2).

Rett syndrome includes autism-like signs, such as difficulty communicating, socializing and relating to others.

Other hallmarks are seizures, decreased muscle tone, repetitive involuntary movements, and gastrointestinal and breathing problems.

These other signs are also seen in some patients with other ASDs, suggesting underlying similarities in their causes.

While the causes of most ASDs are unknown and thought to be complex, Rett syndrome is unique, and could be a source of insight for the others, because it is caused by an error in a single gene.

The research team used mice lacking the MeCP2 protein, which left them with severe Rett syndrome.

In examining those mice, what stood out, according to Gabriele Ronnett, M.D., Ph.D., who led the research project at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, was that they weighed the same as healthy mice but had large fat deposits accompanied by lower amounts of nonfat tissue, such as muscle.

This suggested that calories were not being used to support normal tissue function but instead were being stored as fat.

This possibility led Ronnett and her research team to consider the role of mitochondria, which transform the building blocks of nutrients into a high-energy molecule, ATP.

This molecule drives processes such as the building of muscle and the growth of nerve cells.

Mitochondria use a series of biochemical reactions, collectively called the TCA cycle, to make this transformation possible.

According to Susan Aja, Ph.D., a research associate and lead member of the research team, "If the components of the TCA cycle are low, nutrient building blocks are not processed well to create ATP. They are instead stored as fat."

Ronnett suspected, she says, that some of Rett syndrome's neurological symptoms could stem from metabolic deficiencies caused by faulty mitochondria and reduced energy for brain cells.

"Rett syndrome becomes apparent in humans 6 to 18 months old, when the energy needs of the brain are particularly high, because a lot of new neural connections are being made," says Ronnett.

"If the mitochondria are already defective, stressed or damaged, the increased demand would be too much for them."

Previous small clinical trials in people with a different metabolic disorder suggested that dietary intervention with triheptanoin could help.

Triheptanoin is odourless, tasteless and a little thinner than olive oil. It is easily processed to produce one of the components of the TCA cycle.

When Rett syndrome mice were weaned at 4 weeks of age, they were fed a diet in which 30 percent of their calories came from triheptanoin, mixed in with their normal pelleted food.

Though far from a cure, the results of the triheptanoin treatment were impressive, the researchers say.

Treated mice had healthier mitochondria, improved motor function, increased social interest in other mice and lived four weeks, or 30 percent, longer than mice who did not receive the oil. The team also found that the diet normalized their body fat, glucose and fat metabolism.

"You can think of the mitochondria of the Rett syndrome model mice as damaged buckets with holes in them that allow TCA cycle components to leak out," says Aja.

"We haven't figured out how to plug the holes, but we can keep the buckets full by providing triheptanoin to replenish the TCA cycle."

"It is still too early to assume that this oil will work in humans with ASDs, but these results give us hope," says Ronnett.

"It's exciting to think that we might be able to improve many ASDs without having to identify each and every contributing gene."

According to Aja, additional mouse studies are needed to learn if female mice respond to the treatment, to perform a wider range of physiology and behavior tests, and, importantly, to assess the effects of triheptanoin treatment on the brain, which is considered the main driver of many Rett symptoms.

The team would also like to provide triheptanoin at earlier ages, perhaps via the mothers' milk, to mimic developmental ages at which most children are diagnosed with Rett syndrome.

Triheptanoin is currently made for research purposes only and is not available as a medicine or dietary supplement for humans.

More information: PLOS ONE: dx.plos.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0109527